The water of Lake Geneva (pardon me, Lac Léman) is clear, calm and cool – and dipping your feet in is exactly the right thing to wrap up a week of early mornings, long office days, and sweaty uphill struggles. That actually makes it sound a lot worse than it is – in fact, my first week in Switzerland actually ran like clockwork (pun intended). The early mornings aren’t actually that early, unless you (like me) consider 7.30 AM to be an ungodly hour. It would be fine if I could just get to bed before midnight, but I don’t think Being Erica (whose trailer doesn’t do it justice at all) or The Newsroom (two words: Aaron Sorkin) plan on letting me do that any time soon.
At my internship, the work itself is exactly my kind of thing (editing articles and designing a layout on InDesign) but there’s not enough of it to fill the day, so for the last hour or so, I find myself browsing through the news, budgeting my weekly spending, catching up on Linguistics reading I should have done a year ago, and researching Masters degrees – all while intermittently checking Outlook in the vain hope that someone has replied to my e-mails. After work I cycle home 10.5 km to the tune of a 170m increase in altitude. My borrowed bike is electric, which is a godsend on the days that I just don’t wanna, but on the days where I want to push myself and do it sans battery, I become very quickly aware of how heavy electric bikes are.
So when, on Sunday morning, my hosts, V (who is back from holiday, and with whom I get on with very well) and the aforementioned W, suggested a trip to the beach, I was in the car faster than you can say “relax”. I decided not to wear my swimsuit, mainly because I knew we weren’t going for very long, but also so I knew I wouldn’t be tempted to hop in the water and abandon my book. I’m currently reading Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I have been “currently reading” it for four months. I love what Mark Twain has to say about German and someone told me this was the “ultimate” American novel… but it’s not as good as I’d anticipated. Yet. I hold out hope.
I lay in the Sun with my Kindle and contemplated Switzerland. [A/N: I felt this a little more strongly when I wrote it than I do now, a week and a half later, but in essence it is the same.]
This is an odd place. It’s pristine and affluent, but has a seriously poor reputation regarding immigrants. I feel a little uncomfortable here, like everything imperfect is to be scoured off the surface. Then, it’s multilingual and multicultural, yes, but oddly so: the German, French and Italian regions are divided not only geographically, but also culturally, linguistically and – what seems most interesting of all to me – intentionally. None of the French-Swiss people I have met have any interest in learning German, never mind learning about the German-Swiss people, region or culture. As for Italian, the only indication that this is a quatro-lingual country is to be found the backs of cereal boxes and shampoo bottles. You can forget Romansh.
Finally, I became quickly aware of the fact that despite being surrounded by Europe, European politics and current affairs are hardly discussed – not surprisingly, really, considering Switzerland is known for neutrality – and when they are it is with the tone of a father tutting about his children playing. The country and its inhabitants feel very remote somehow, despite being renowned for hosting dozens of international organizations. The IUCN is just the start, with WWF literally just down the street, and the UN, the WHO, the WTO, the Red Cross and CERN headquartered not much further away. Acronyms abound, as do good intentions and undoubtedly good actions too, but it really feels like a nation playing God to the rest of the world – or rather, playing Matron.
Of course, I’ve only been here a week, and I’m sure any Swiss person will valiantly refute my observations, but I can’t help but feel that there is nothing but trees and dirt in the forest, nothing but blood and bone in the people, and nothing but clear, cool water in the lake. It’s not unpleasant at all (quite the opposite in fact), but as Gertrude Stein once said so eloquently, “There is no there there” – or if there is, I fail to see it.